You are what you eat. Stay local and fresh!

We got our first chickens ten years ago for fun and fresh eggs.  We didn’t expect the sea change that occurred, although now I can’t imagine anything less.  Our lives were changed forever by five Barred Rocks.

There is nothing like a fresh egg.  Once you taste one you never go back to those mystery eggs sold in most supermarkets. *  The basic ingredient is so astoundingly good that it transforms everything it goes into, from scrambled eggs to baked goods. “Peasant” foods like frittatas and pasta Carbonara are raised to wondrous new heights.  Cooking is so rewarding with the right ingredients. It also leads to some real decisions about all your food.

Our head chicken raiser at the time was nine or ten years old.  By the time she was eleven or so, she decided she wasn’t going to eat meat anymore.  She cared about the hens too much to think about eating other animals.  Fine.  We went with that and found her other sources of protein.  Things were harmonious and both vegetarian daughter and hens were healthy and happy.

The next mile marker in our eating timeline came about a year after that.  We moved on to eating meat if we knew it was raised well.  I admit I didn’t do a really good job at this for a long time.  And while we knew we raised our chickens well, they were still layers only and then pets once they stopped laying. I looked for meats with labels that said nice things, things that made me feel good about feeding them to my family.  I bought chicken that Stew Leonard’s claimed was raised on Amish Farms because it was all I knew how to do.  I actually have no idea what they mean by “Amish Farms.” I certainly never saw the conditions on the farm or met the farmer. I continued to do my best with a family that was becoming more and more adamant about knowing how its’ food was raised.  Our youngest, in middle school,  won a public speaking award for a speech about the evils of MacDonalds and factory farming; our eldest was studying environmental ethics in high school. Things were getting serious.

Over the course of the next year, we got to know some remarkable farmers. We met a man who raised truly free-range meat birds and started enjoying chicken that tasted like something.  We met a couple who raised grass fed beef and stocked our freezer with a Devon we had met.  We introduced our children to the glories of venison that my husband harvested on our land upstate—the best steak ever.  It took a bit of time to eliminate supermarket meat one hundred percent, but we finally did it.  It has been years since I bought any meat in a supermarket and we eat well every day of the year.  It is easy once you make the switch—I have a fully stocked freezer all the time that includes every cut of meat or type of poultry.  During the worst of last year’s snow storms I never worried about getting to the store.  I simply walked out to the freezer to shop.  Duck Confit?  Venison tenderloin?  Grass fed beef porterhouse?  Fresh eggs, of course.  Never a problem.  We eat well to say the least, and we all know that we are supporting farmers who believe in sustainable agriculture and happily raised animals.  Eating out is becoming less of a problem as more and more restaurants take this same approach.  While we couldn’t now live any other way, we try not to be preachy or obnoxious about it.  I love to cook; we love entertaining at home and have fed many friends their first venison.  This fall, our youngest will be getting her first hunting license in the hopes of procuring some really local meat. We are hosting a series of eating and hunting weekends on our property upstate to share what we know about the sport, the food and the land.  It just might change your life.

*No matter what combination of the words “free” and “cage” or “range” appears on the carton, there is no way to know how old the eggs are, and no guarantee that the hen who laid them stood on or ate a blade of grass or a bug or walked around in the fresh air.  Having “access” to the outdoors and actually going there are two different things.  The only way to know how those chickens live is to visit the farm or know the farmer.  And if they are too far away to do that, do you really want eat the eggs?  To make a long story a bit shorter, I urge you to visit the USDA’s website and read what all those labels really mean.  Allow yourself plenty of time.

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